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I'm a third year undergrad in a public university in Texas. Because of a personal situation, I'm currently unable to attend most lectures (lately none) of a particular math class. However, I have a friend in my section who keeps me updated with the material covered, homework assignments, and exam dates.

I had previously spoken to the professor, explaining that I might be missing sessions throughout the semester, and she seemed understanding; lately, however, I stopped going altogether, and I've exclusively shown up for mid-term examinations (on which I do ok). To my surprise, I've been able to teach myself quite well, and, given that it saves me a considerable amount of time, I've been thinking of adopting this practice in the future.

So: my question is: assuming that attendance isn't compulsory, is it reasonable for students to skip a large numbers of lectures? Will most instructors take this personally? Would there be other unanticipated consequences?

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3 Answers 3

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Depending on class size, most professors won't notice if students are missing or not. When I miss someone, then this person has been active before and then I would notice the absence, but if this happens, I usually ask them if there are problems.

The other view on it is: if attending the lecture gives no benefit, then the professor should ask himself/herself why they are teaching like this. For example, I have some of my lectures on video and students can freely decide to show up or watch the old videos. Still, most are showing up and they usually are having better grades then the ones which don't show up. But this is not because I downgrade the others, it's because they understand the topics more deeply thanks to the discussions in the lectures.

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    I suspect students who show up to lectures are more motivated than students who don't, and accordingly get better grades.
    – Allure
    May 3, 2018 at 8:59
  • @Allure definitely, yes! But even those students are sometimes unable to attend, and their feedback is, that they are missing the discussions and they'll have to spend much more time with the respective topics.
    – OBu
    May 3, 2018 at 9:04
  • If no students turn up to the lecture anymore then it is time to think about the teaching. But if one student decided it is no benefit to them and their specific learning style?
    – skymningen
    May 3, 2018 at 9:52
  • @skymningen this is perfectly fine for me, especially if they are doing fine.
    – OBu
    May 3, 2018 at 10:04
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I had a firm policy about not giving the same lecture twice. I didn't care if you missed class, but when you came around later and tried to cause me extra work, then I got a bit bent. "Professor, I missed class all last week because of my sister's wedding, can we go over what I missed?" No, I'm helping the real students now.

Different courses need different levels and types of engagement. You may be doing fine in this current class, but I wouldn't try this policy for German or music appreciation. Also, rubbing elbows with educated people (like your professors) makes your brain better. It's an intangible, but very important part of your education.

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  • How firm is this firm policy? If a student is taken ill and misses class for a week, would you also refuse any assistance in catching up?
    – MJeffryes
    May 3, 2018 at 12:43
  • I understand where you’re coming from. I wouldn’t expect you, or any professor rather, to reteach a topic for me during office hours, especially when I’ve deliberately missed class. Thank you for your advice.
    – Alex D
    May 3, 2018 at 13:50
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    @MJeffryes Very firm. It was on my syllabuses that one should make a friend right away to prepare for such absences. (I would have 300 to 400 students per semester. Someone is always sick, in jail, at a wedding, etc.) That said, it's not like I'd give "no assistance," but that i won't give the same lecture twice. Not even an abbreviated version.
    – B. Goddard
    May 3, 2018 at 18:37
  • @B.Goddard: The idea to specify this on the syllabus is excellent (+1). That gives excellent coverage for the situation. I think I will steal that idea.
    – Ben
    Mar 2 at 2:40
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This is a question you should probably better ask someone local, like your student's union or other students.

For my experience, most professors don't care or don't notice, but there were also a few who ridiculed those students and gave them automatically worse marks in the exam. (But those were only a few).

Also see this question: Is it okay for a professor to leave the classroom only 5 min past the class start if nobody has shown up? and in particular, the answer by problemofficer. This (highly upvoted answer) seems to suggest (at least to me) that some professors take it personally if students are not present.

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